European Aluminium Foil Association president Bruno Rea told Converting Today's John Fortune that demand had been low in 2019 due to exports from China
Fresh, convenient, lightweight and decorative: films and foils have long been a popular material for packaging. Leading figures from the European Aluminium Foil Association (EAFA) talk about the current state of the market, as well as provide insight about 2019’s Alufoil Trophy-winning products, showcasing the leading innovation in foil this year. Converting Today writer John Fortune reports.
It was a quiet period of trade for European aluminium foil rollers in the three months to the end of September, thanks mostly to a general uncertainty in global markets, in addition to the ongoing US-China trade dispute.
Overall demand in the third quarter has been down 2.2% to 228,685 tonnes – compared with 2018’s figure of 233,727 tonnes – with year-to-date figures showing total production almost unchanged at 714,251 tonnes, according to figures released by the European Aluminium Foil Association (EAFA).
The downturn can be attributed largely to slow demand in the market for thinner gauges, which is down 1.9% year-to-date (YTD). Thinner gauges are mainly used for flexible packaging and household foils. Figures for the third quarter show a drop of 4.4% in deliveries in this category, continuing the modest downward trend of the previous six months.
“Predicting demand in the current market is extremely difficult,” said Bruno Rea, EAFA president. “Demand in Europe for aluminium foil has generally been weak throughout 2019 due to increasing exports from China, but there are some bright spots, particularly the consistent performance of thicker gauges and strong export deliveries.”
There was a 2% rise in deliveries of thicker gauges, typically used for semi-rigid containers, technical or other applications – a figure that is also a continuation of trends from the previous two quarters.
Exports reflected the ongoing global trade uncertainties with a small drop of 0.8% in the last period, but continue to be well ahead of 2018 YTD figures (+21.4%). This is accompanied by a strong overall performance in the thicker gauge category, which is 3.5% ahead YTD.
Aluminium foil manufacturers are rising to the challenge to more socially -conscious consumers, says European Aluminium Foil Association boss
“We are positive,” Rea continues. “The last quarter of the year is traditionally a good one for the sector and it is possible customers have held off restocking for the upcoming holiday season until later this year. So with incoming orders almost on a par with 2018, itself a record for the industry, we believe this is a very resilient performance in unpredictable times.”
Despite some confusing statistics there are reasons to be confident. One is the wide range of innovation and creativity that pervades the foil packaging marketplace.
Each year the best of the best are credited with the Alufoil Trophy and the 2019 edition did not disappoint, providing some of the best products and stiffest competition the judges have ever seen. In total, nine awards were made across five categories, including a discretionary award for overall excellence for one outstanding product.
The judges, led this year by Laura Fernandez, senior packaging technologist at Marks & Spencer, looked for strong social elements running through entries – particularly in terms of convenience for the consumer and social or environmental aspects of product development.
One example of these themes is an alufoil lid with the capability to emboss braille, offering information to shoppers with poor vision. Another enables sensitive pharmaceuticals to be used in very humid and tropical areas of the world safely.
“We were very taken with many of the entries working effectively on more than one level,” she explained. “While it was clever technically, or offered energy or material savings, there were also other aspects that made it special, such as easier opening or with the potential to reduce food waste.
“In particular we should mention the discretionary award winner, an intelligent and ‘connected’ aluminium wine closure that takes this device and its functionality to a new level.
“Another winner was not from the packaging sector, but an outstanding entry in the category of resource efficiency. It clearly demonstrated better efficiencies and reduced consumption in energy recovery rotors, made possible by very clever use of alufoil.”
Guido Aufdemkamp, executive director of EAFA, agreed that aluminium foil manufacturers and converters are rising to the challenge of an increasingly socially aware consumer and customer base, which continues to put sustainability and the environment at the front of their needs.
“They are continuing to ensure they match the real needs of consumers for smarter and more convenient packaging, without losing sight of these sustainable requirements. We are delighted that the Alufoil Trophy continues to effectively highlight how the foil sector is leading such developments,” he said of the awards.
Foils for ‘ready-to-cook’ products and peelable lids: Alufoil Trophy winners
The competition is open to products made from aluminium foil or products that contain aluminium foil as part of a laminate, structure or packaging system, as well as aluminium closures. Categories cover every aspect of aluminium foil usage. The classifications are consumer convenience, marketing and design, product protection, resource efficiency and technical innovation.
In the area of consumer convenience, the winner was Constantia Flexibles with its EasyOpenLidretort. This is a newly developed solution for alufoil-based food container systems, used for in-pack sterilisation processes, allowing easier and more convenient opening.
It addresses challenges such as the force needed to open peelable alufoil lids or tear lidding material. The composition has been optimised to greatly reduce opening forces without compromising the mandatory seal-integrity for sterilisation.
There were two winners in the marketing and design category. The first was Constantia flexibles again, this time for its DecoTainer premium pet food product. The round, alufoil container was designed to communicate a high-quality packaging appearance by printing 100% of the surface, fully visible to consumers.
The design also improves stability while the ergonomic bowl shape supports the easy removal of the contents. In addition, by using rotogravure, the overall printing quality was raised for an even more engaging and aesthetically pleasing package. The round alufoil containers are displayed in corrugated display trays in a harmonised design to create a high-end look for consumers.
The second winner was i2r Packaging Solutions for its Shelf Ready Smoothwall Container, which was developed for “ready-to-cook” vegetables and is able to stand in the upright position on a supermarket shelf, giving consumers a direct view of the product.
By designing a combination of strengthening features below the rim, and ribs that flow into the base of the packaging, there is no need for an outer cardboard sleeve. Both design features allow for additional gauge reduction, significantly reducing packaging weight.
The product protection category was won outright by Amcor Flexibles, which worked with GSK on the Formpack Dessiflex Ultra for Augmentin. This joint development replaces a glass container with a new blister pack, offering enhanced protection for moisture-sensitive antibiotics. Exposing tablets to moisture when a bottle is opened is far more likely, as are breakages.
In the category for resource efficiency, there were two winners, the first was Ardagh group with its joint venture with Orkla Foods Norway – the Hansa Can for Stabburet. The can is a printed, easy open alufoil-based container for fish fillet, providing a 10% reduction in material use.
The challenge was to reduce pack weight without altering the can format, performance or iconic printed branding on this national Norwegian product. The reduction in material thickness from 0.21mm to 0.19mm was achieved without loss of performance during the retorting process.
The second winner was Italcoat with its innovative Hygrosieve-lacquered aluminium foil. The hygroscopic lacquer, with a molecular sieve effect, improves the performance in terms of selective vapour absorption and desorption, resulting in a 15% energy saving.
The product has been specifically developed for energy recovery rotors. The aluminium foil is chemically degreased and lacquered both sides with a hygroscopic formulation and anticorrosion primer.
How aluminium foil is being used to develop near-field communication technology
The second winner, Selig Group has developed a unique sealing technique, called GlassFuze, using aluminium foil as a key material to create a hermetic seal. This is the first and only induction heat-sealing technique for an alufoil membrane that provides a complete hermetic seal – able to withstand liquid and oily substances.
The use of the aluminium foil is key to the process. Not only does the foil create a barrier to oxygen and moisture, it also heats up to create the actual seal. Without the use of aluminium foil, this hermetic seal would not be possible.
A final, discretionary award was handed to Guala Closures for its e-WAK, patented near-field communication (NFC) closure for wineries. This is the first NFC closure specially made for wineries, allowing them to start a one-to-one relationship with their consumers.
The new intelligent technology has been integrated in a WAK aluminium closure, which can also carry brand personalisation. The NFC chip allows any bottle of wine to become a “connected bottle”.
Positioned in the cap, it sends a signal to enabled mobile phones, offering four potential benefits. The wine-owner gets marketing data acquisition and logistics track and trace, while the consumer receives authenticity certification and direct engagement with the brand.
This article originally appeared in the winter 2019 edition of Converting Today. The full issue can be viewed here.